Current outbreaks of protest and civil disobedience bring relevance to director Nicholas Hytner’s powerful modern-dress version of Hamlet. Denmark is a frightening unstable political regime and apprehensive lighting by Jon Clark creates a shadowy environment that conceals spectres and, worse, spies.
This context opens up new perspectives on the play. In a society in which anyone who represents a challenge or potential embarrassment is assassinated Hamlet’s reluctance to act may be because it would put others- the players or Ophelia (a vulnerable and fragile Ruth Negga)– at risk.
Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet is a revelation. This is not an introspective prince but rather one who questions all authority - even God. His humble, deeply human, interpretation in no way interferes with the lyricism of the verse even though some of the most famous speeches are delivered fag in hand.
Hytner ensures that powerful performances are not isolated. Hamlet’s exchanges with David Calder’s haunted bureaucrat Polonius are surprisingly funny. There is a palpable, visceral hatred between Hamlet and Patrick Malahide’s arrogant, but self-aware, Claudius. Kinnear’s body language shows Hamlet’s loathing as he can barely speak to his uncle preferring to communicate in writing.
This is a superb production of one of the greatest plays in history – we shall not look upon its like for some time.